As recently as five years ago, there was barely any proptech presence at Expo Real.
Things have certainly changed. This year, proptech felt like a truly established part of the conference, with the tech alley and real estate innovation forum, more proptech providers showcasing products than ever before and a wide variety of tech discussions on the speaker and panel programme. Proptech felt less like something tacked on to the side of the main conference, and instead an ingrained part of the overall experience – surely a reflection of the growing rate of proptech adoption in commercial real estate as a whole.
But what were the main headlines and talking points dominating the proptech space at this year’s Expo Real?
It probably won’t surprise many to know that WeWork was a topic of much discussion, with debate over what the company’s IPO withdrawal means for its future and what steps the company’s new management will need to take to right the ship.
However, many of the proptech start-ups I spoke to, including space bookings firm Booqed, made the point that regardless of where the company goes from here, WeWork has achieved its stated mission of “elevating the world’s consciousness”. They have shown the power of creating a brand and product that truly appeal to the end user, meaning traditional landlords have had to completely review how they provide space. That process has provided a catalyst for growth for many proptech companies over the last few years, which can help landlords transition their offer in response. In that sense, many within the Expo proptech community are therefore hugely grateful for the role that WeWork has played in expediting their growth over the last five years, regardless of recent news.
Just a few weeks after Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech at the recent UN Climate Action Summit, sustainability was also a topic of much debate at this year’s Expo. Certainly there was a sense that proptech could play a significant part in creating more sustainable ways of constructing and maintaining buildings. Morten Lund, chief executive of Poshtel International, reminded delegates in his keynote speech that 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions come from the construction industry, compared with 2% from air travel. With real estate contributing so significantly, Lund challenged the proptech community to find innovative ways to help reduce this staggering output.
Finally, data adoption was once again high on the proptech agenda. With property still comparatively slow to adopt data solutions compared with other industries, a number of speakers outlined the substantial benefits of making analytics a core part of any asset management, leasing or acquisition strategy.
Dr Christoph Schumacher, global head of real estate at Credit Suisse Asset Management, highlighted the positive role that analytics could play in creating successful tenant engagement strategies in a ‘post-WeWork’ world where tenants expect a tailored workplace experience. He argued that it was not enough for owners to simply provide a bricks-and-mortar model and hope for the best when it came to tenant satisfaction. Instead landlords need to use data and analytics to measure, analyse and adapt their strategy if they want to truly satisfy users.
And so just as soon as it begins, another Expo Real comes to a close, but the conference continues to provide a fantastic opportunity to gauge where the proptech industry is at. This year’s event was both an encouraging and challenging edition. The rate of proptech adoption within real estate means there is palpable excitement for where the sector is heading, and yet sustained dialogue and co-operation is needed to keep the momentum going and tackle some of the biggest issues the property industry still faces. We look forward to reflecting on further progress at Expo Real 2020.
Adam Malik is head of business development, UK and Ireland, at Equiem